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African-American genealogical research for recent years follows the same procedures as for any other ethnic group. However, there are specific strategies for tracing African-American roots prior to 1870. Most of the records are available through the Family History Library and through FamilySearch.
Research Guides and Source Lists. For guides to African American family history research, see
- Quick Guide to African American Records, a Wiki article including some pre-1870 sources and strategies.
- Finding Records of Your Ancestors African Americans 1870 to Present, an in depth article including a case study of recent sources.
- African American Research FamilySearch list of records, databases, indexing projects, presentations and other guides.
- Dee Parmer Woodtor, Finding a Place Called Home: An African American Guide to Genealogical and Historical Identity (New York: Random House, 1999)(FHL book 973 F2wd). This book explains the basic as well as complex research techniques required for African-American research.
- Marie Taylor, Family History Library Bibliography of African American Sources (Salt Lake City: Family History Library, 1994)(FHL book 973 F23tm). This book lists 3,320 African American sources, including Canadian records. It also includes articles from historical and genealogical periodicals.
- Also, African-Americans with Native American ancestry should check African-Cherokee Connections (CD-ROM 2928 in the Family History Library).
The following records can help determine if an ancestor was born free or freed by slave owner.
For records of the Underground Railroad, go to: www.freedomcenter.org/freedomstations/ and www.nationalgeographic.com/features/99/railroad/j1.html.
To make a slave connection, you must first identify the slave owner, and then study the owner’s records for clues to family information. About 15 percent of former slaves took their last slave owner’s surname. Sources for identifying the slave owner include Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations From the Revolution Through the Civil War: Series A through N FHL Film nos. 1,534,196 through 1,534,236, and military records at:
The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Records include birthplace, place brought up, residence, age, complexion, name of employer or occupation, spouse, children, father, mother, brothers and sisters, remarks, and signature. These records are found in Registers of Signatures of Depositors in Branches of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, 1865—1874 FHL Film nos. 928,571 through 928,591. An additional guide for Freedmen’s Bureau field office records is Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Field Offices of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands: Record Group 105 by Elaine Everly and Willna Pacheli FHL Book: 973 F23ea. Part 1 includes Alabama and Louisiana, Part 2 includes Maryland and South Carolina, and Part 3 includes Tennessee and Virginia. Some of the Freedmen’s Bureau records are available online at:
Another helpful source of information for locating African-American ancestors is the Records of the Commissioners of Claims 1871—1880 FHL Film nos. 1,463,963 through 1,463,987. Nearly 22,300 cases are filed by individual names, family groups, churches, and businesses. Records include testimony of neighbors, relatives, and former slaves to support a claimant’s assertions, taken during the Civil War because of loyalty to the Union. A master index to these case files is found in Southern Loyalists in the Civil War: The Southern Claims Commission by Gary B. Mills FHL Book: 975 M2s.
Slave Narratives. In the 1930s over 3,500 typescript interviews of former slaves were compiled by the WPA.See:
- Library of Congress' free site that indexes 2,300 narratives in Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project.
- Ancestry.com's ($) subscription site of 3,500 slave narratives in Slave Narratives, or free at selected libraries in Slave Narratives.
- Howard E. Potts, A Comprehensive Name Index for the American Slave (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997)FHL Book 973 F22p.
- University of North Carolina's free site North American Slave Narratives.
The following guidebooks and histories are available at the Family History Library:
- James D. Walker, Black Genealogy: How To Begin (Athens, Georgia: Univ. of Georgia, 1977)FHL Book: 973 F26w
- Tony Burroughs, Black Roots: a Beginners Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree (New York: Fireside Book, 2001)FHL Book: 973 D27bt.
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